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Kelly’s New Mouthpiece

August 31, 2009

Apparently unhappy with the legal advice he has been getting, Ray Kelly has hired himself a new $165,000 attorney — and you, the taxpayers, will be paying for her.

She is Assistant Manhattan U.S. Attorney Katherine Ann Lemire of its Public Corruption Unit. Police sources say she will be handling Kelly’s highest profile cases.

“The question her appointment raises,” says Chris Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, “is whether Commissioner Kelly is unhappy with the legal representation he has gotten in high-profile cases from the police department and the law department.”

It is not known what specifically caused Kelly to seek his own private counsel. Some note that he got beat up pretty badly a year or so ago in a deposition by attorneys for Critical Mass, the bicycle-riding group that the department has long targeted.

Kelly was also embarrassed by Manhattan District Court Judge Charles Haight, following the arrests of 274 Iraq war protestors in 2003. Haight mocked Kelly’s claims of ignorance about the wide-ranging and potentially unconstitutional questioning of protestors in their jail cells, where detectives asked them such questions as who their friends were, which colleges they attended, their political associations and their feelings about Israel and Palestine.

While Kelly, a non-practicing lawyer, defended the questioning as “debriefings,” Haight said: “A pilot who returns from a mission is debriefed. A defector is debriefed by agents.” Referring to the Iraq war protestors, Haight said, “Those persons were in police custody.”

Haight further mocked Kelly’s professed ignorance of the questioning, comparing it to the famous line in the classic movie Casablanca, spoken by Claude Raines. Playing a corrupt French official, Raines succumbs to pressure from the Nazis and closes his favorite nightspot with the trumped up excuse, “I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling going on,” just as a croupier gives him his winnings.

Two high-profile police cases appear on the horizon that may also have Kelly worried. One involves the department’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy that apparently targets young black males. The other is the Intelligence Division’s controversial spying on political groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention.

What may have upset Kelly in the latter was that an apparent last-minute decision by Deputy Police Commissioner for Legal Matters Andrew Schaffer and corporation counsel Peter Farrell that led to making public the Intelligence Division’s secret spying.

That decision stemmed from a Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit, questioning whether many of the 1,800 protestors arrested at the RNC had been illegally arrested, detained and fingerprinted.

Then in Dec., 2006, after two years of litigation, the department notified the plaintiffs on the eve of discovery that Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen would be a witness and that the department would produce Intelligence Division documents that justified the arrests.

“We had litigated the case for over two years,” said Dunn. “Three days before discovery was set to close, they notified us for the first time that Cohen would be a witness. Someone high up would have had to make the decision to insert Cohen into case. He had been conspicuously absent until then.”

The department subsequently maintained that the detentions stemmed from what Intelligence Division detectives had learned from the political surveillance operation. But when the NYCLU asked exactly what it was they had learned and sought to see the documents the department claimed had justified the arrests, the department refused to reveal them.

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Said Dunn: “We asked them: ‘OK, what did you learn?’ They said, ‘We don’t want to tell you.’”

Since then, Federal Magistrate James Francis has twice ordered the NYPD to produce these documents. But the department has refused, saying the information was too sensitive.

In what came to be called the “Cohen Declaration,” Cohen argued that making public any “raw data” from the Intelligence Division could lead to the naming of undercover detectives or confidential informants, whose identities, he said, were “the most protected personnel information in the NYPD.” He maintained the information was so sensitive that even his declaration could not be made public.

Francis rejected that notion as well.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers have maintained they do not seek the names of informants or detectives — only the names of the political groups spied on and what the NYPD learned about their activities.

Instead of turning over the documents, city lawyers have appealed Francis’ decisions. The case is now before District Judge Richard Sullivan.

Schaffer was said by his office to be on vacation.

Lemire, Kelly’s new hire, could not be reached for comment. Yusil Scribner, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, did not respond to emails and telephone calls.

ROCCO TO THE NEWS. Newsday’s veteran police reporter Rocco Parascandola is becoming police bureau chief of the Daily News. He succeeds Alison Gendar who is moving to federal court after a 4½- year run in which she: broke the story of the NYPD’s secret plan to take over security at Ground Zero; nabbed Assistant Chief John Colgan for sleeping in the Brooklyn counter -terrorism headquarters to hide the fact that he lived way upstate, violating the NYPD’s legal residency requirement; and nailed the department’s highest ranked black officer, Douglas Zeigler, revealing he had been parked outside his girlfriend’s home when he was stopped by a white cop whom Zeigler accused of racism.

She also had a hand in a recent Daily News survey that found that it was virtually impossible to reach half the city’s precincts by telephone. [And you wonder why crime is down.]

Parascandola, who reported for Newsday for 8½ years after 12 years at the Post, had discovered a similar phenomenon in 2003, writing a series of articles, based on statements from the patrolmen’s and sergeants’ unions, indicating that the department systemically reduced felonies to misdemeanors to lower the crime rate.

When Mark Pomerantz, the former head of the Mayor’s Commission on Police Corruption, sought police documents on the matter, Kelly refused to turn them over. When Bloomberg backed Kelly by saying and doing nothing, Pomerantz resigned.

With the loss of Parascandola, Newsday goes into further oblivion. The street-smart Parascandola joins an elite, although shrinking, fraternity, that now includes the earnestly decent Al Baker at the Times and the canny Murray Weiss at the Post.

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